Next week on 'Contact'
Originally published in the virtual magazine i+Real
(Translation: Daniel W. Koon)
“What a shame that our viewers can’t smell this dish over the airwaves!” beamed Rosalía Arnaez, the anchor (that day, as it happens) of the program ‘Contact’ as a steaming plate of food, just prepared by a famous actor, filled the screen.
And at my own home I thought: if she only knew, if she knew all the difficulties I have faced with my invention which allows one to transmit smells by radio, telephone, television, satellite, even by ham radio.
First there were the tests to try to understand smell, to decode the chemistry of its origin, the biological reaction of the smeller, the psychological process, emotional in the context of the sensation that each smell produces: its regulation, intensity, amplitude, aroma, tone, stink, agreement, fragrance, associated memories and each effect that gives rise to smell or which the smell produces.
Finally the Electromagnetic Encyclopedia of Smell was compiled, stored on computer discs (based on samples which I stored in 10,000 flasks) which could then be reproduced through amplifiers, horns and oscillators of the type found in normal electronic instruments that one has in one’s home.
The harvesting of samples brought the protests of my family and workmates, who were annoyed that every object, perfume, piece of trash, food, excretion, secretion or extract that passed through my hands or that produced the faintest aroma or stench was collected by me and bottled, classified with a number and name, entered in the computer, analyzed and decoded with a method which I developed in bits and pieces in the thesis projects of the graduate students my university assigned me. And so I worked through the nights with my office computer, with the university computer and with my neighbor’s home computer, which he could no longer use to play games, but that’s the luck of the draw: he could afford to buy one and I’m the one using it.
How I envied the heroine of the soap opera ‘Perfume’, for her ability to sense and understand smells, but I would not be held back. I would succeed in reproducing them electronically and then I could save the smells on discs or cassettes. I could make videosmellclips, in which smells would play a principal role: one would sense the perfume of a gorgeous woman, the aroma of the flowers, the characteristic smell of the breeze from the ocean, the smells of wild beasts in the jungle and many other smells besides, one for each situation.
For analogies I could also find the smell equivalent for whatever other type of signal and just as with television images one can alter colors through the computerized technique of false color, so one could give false smells to a recording or translate colors into smells, words to smells, music to smells, make symphonies of smells and even evaluate through a scale of smells the content of what some person was saying, for example when someone speaks through radio, telephone or television one did not have to miss what was being said to know if it was in his interest or not. By simply attaching the smell transformer to an odor we could smell how those words are translated. So that some persons would produce a total olfactory silence with their blither because they do not say anything no matter how long they speak; others on the contrary with their interesting conversation would produce the aroma of juicy fruits or of fresh country air; while others would produce with my equipment a stink that would linger even after it had been disconnected.
I presented the first report of my preliminary results at the Association of New Inventions and Reasoning (ANIR) and instead of receiving the approval of the board, what I received was a great round of laughter and the most resounding rejection, because somebody quoted a specialist who said the smell was of chemical origin and could not be codified, repeated, or recorded, much less reproduced by means of electronic devices that were not even in direct contact with the nose.
From then on I presented my apparatus and my reports in front of the most diverse audiences and some of them, like the ANIR, did not take my research seriously. Those who took me seriously demonstrated to me that it was uncomfortable, unaffordable, unhygienic, unprofitable, that it would not replace imports and that finally nobody would be interested. On the other hand, the Technical Youth Brigade (TYB) took me seriously but when it came to apply, the ones who did not take me seriously went to the TYB.
At the Institute of Radio and Television Communications (IRTC), they bounced me through every imaginable department. In one they told me that they would have to change their scripts, so that smell would play an important role. In another that they would have to redesign the studios and retrain their writers, advisors, the critics and censors since not all smells could be permitted on television, some were in bad taste, others had ideological problems or were not appropriate for minors, or for adults; that they would have to install special antennas and dishes, as well as amplifiers and see how the public would react when the foul smell of an untrained speaker or of some person interviewed by surprise was broadcast through the loudspeakers. With smell present, how can one control or evade the indiscretions accompanied by strange noises that one sometimes senses on Radio Reloj, or mask the boozy breath of certain artists and singers? I tried to argue that smell could also be dubbed, but that drew me an avalanche of rebukes, since there is no such things as a smell engineer as there are sound engineers, and if these engineers don’t exist, who is going to train these engineers and who will evaluate them and what credit will they get on the staff and what salary? I argued for a kind of hyphenated job title and with a burst of protests they passed me off to another department where they told me that I should fill out I don’t know how many sheets of paper and later they told me that in this country there are no standards of smell nor norms to calibrate the instruments, these had not been approved for broadcast use and that until this problem was cleared up I should not return.
My odyssey did not stop there, because when I tried to establish my samples as norms at the national Bureau of Standards [CBS] they told me that I couldn’t because there were no international -- that is to say foreign -- standards for the reference and contrast of my very samples, furthermore I had to be sponsored by the appropriate organization which in this case would be the IRTC.
I changed my strategy and tried to introduce the preliminary results of my discovery. I could give perfume manufacturers a tool to control the quality of the product, the possibility to create new perfumes digitally and the ability to smell them before they were made.
One could produce electronic perfumes, portable battery-powered atomizers. But it was of course a pipe dream; the chemists, supported by the bureaucrats, declared a total blockade on me.
My equipment has spent several years gathering dust and spiderwebs; I only use it when somebody from some department or the other comes by who has received the multiple letters that I once sent out and which have traveled through the labyrinths of the official bureaucracy. Then I give a demonstration, each time with less enthusiasm, although I have explained to them that an infinite number of persons can use it: customs officials to detect drugs and contraband; the police as a lie detector; doctors as a new diagnostic tool to detect illnesses. I’ve even proposed that the humane society might use it as a sort of telephone for pets to chat among themselves, since dogs have a language of smells; to detect rotten fruit or the level of ripeness and many other applications. And they come, they watch with curiosity and then they never return or they write me or call me to tell me that there is no money for investment, that there is no interest at present, that there are more pressing projects, etc.
For all these reasons when I heard Rosalía was interested in transmitting smells over television so that the viewers could know what they had cooked on ‘Contact’, my hopes rose once more. A TV star’s powers of persuasion are irresistible; if she could use them to demonstrate how smell could be produced by any television set. I am going to demonstrate how my invention is important for tourism and that it is a source for foreign investment because we are going to sell the smell of the beaches and of the tropics to the tourists. I believe that now I have the argument that will convince anyone. Yes, now! So tune in and see me next week on ‘Contact’.
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